Is it just me, or is it the season for unscrupulous ethical behavior in D.C.? The latest incident may have flown under the radar, what with literally every breath Scott Pruitt has taken over the past year, but the Washington Post reported on Friday that the National Institutes of Health had to cancel a 10-year, $100 million study on moderate alcohol consumption because officials had solicited $66 million of the funding from—you guessed it—beer and liquor companies.
The study, which was supposed to include more than 7,800 people around the world, was going to look into whether or not moderate drinking was part of a healthy diet. After The New York Times reported in March that federal officials shamelessly courted the alcohol industry, including Anheuser Busch InBev, Heineken, and others, to fund the study, the NIH conducted a review of its own agency. They found a number of violations:
The review found that the staff who met with five liquor companies did not follow existing rules that required them to report such contacts. In a statement, NIH said that “a small number” of employees at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) violated policies and that “appropriate personnel actions” would be taken, without specifying what that would entail. The report includes a lengthy appendix with emails between staff and industry representatives.
But NIH officials also identified flaws in the scientific design of the Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health (MACH) trial, which they believed might skew the results to highlight benefits while minimizing harms, such as alcohol consumption’s relationship with cancer and heart problems.
There is still a second inquiry ongoing looking into the “wider issue of possible industry influence on NIH-funded research overall.” As Michael Carome of Public Citizen pointed out to the Post, while it’s good that NIH canceled the trial, the agency should also probably conduct an outside review. Instead, it is currently allowed to continue investigating itself.